COLUMBUS, Ohio — The momentum Urban Meyer was looking for is building, and Ohio State is on the kind of roll that shouldn’t come as a surprise during this stretch of its schedule.
As talented as the Buckeyes are, there was really no question that a winning streak would come together by the end of September with an eye on a huge test at the end of October. But it’s the dominance of those victories, the experimentation with the offense and the improvement of some young defensive players that is generating the positive vibes for Meyer’s program as it bounces back from that early-season loss to Oklahoma.
With a thorough 56-0 demolition at Rutgers behind it, Ohio State turns its attention to an intriguing Maryland team. Like always, there are some questions that will dominate the buildup to that matchup on Saturday at the Horseshoe, and here is what Ohio State needs to answer.
1. How will Ohio State handle the backfield now?
There has never been any wavering from the coaching staff that the team’s power-spread offense would feature both of its top tailbacks once Mike Weber was healthy. That was clear already in the sophomore’s return to the lineup against the Scarlet Knights, a splashy outing that featured 3 touchdowns as Ohio State rotated Weber and J.K. Dobbins.
There’s a possibility of both lining up on the field at the same time moving forward, but that would seem more like a speciality package for Ohio State rather than a staple of the playbook. So, how exactly will the Buckeyes manage the workload with Dobbins proving he’s already an elite rusher in the first month of his career, quarterback J.T. Barrett still needing carries and H-back Parris Campbell and running back Demario McCall also showing explosiveness on the ground? For all the attention that’s been paid to the passing attack, how Ohio State handles its rushers might be the real key down the line.
2. Will depth at defensive tackle ever hurt Ohio State?
Whether it’s due to freak injuries like the one Dre’Mont Jones suffered in the locker room last week or the suspension that has kept Michael Hill off the field all season so far, Ohio State has yet to play a game with its full complement of interior linemen on defense. And it has hardly mattered at all for perhaps the most talented D-line in the entire country.
Thanks in part to the versatility of the elite defensive ends the Buckeyes have stockpiled, position coach Larry Johnson has simply shuffled his personnel whenever an unexpected hole pops up and not missed a beat. Against Rutgers, that meant having Jalyn Holmes slide inside early on to fill the void, something that Nick Bosa also has done in the past and Tyquan Lewis is capable of as well. The rise of a healthy Tracy Sprinkle on the inside also has helped, and his instinctual play to deflect a pass at Rutgers led to an interception that helped spark the shutout of the Scarlet Knights.
Jones may not be back yet from the leg laceration that required stitches. But odds are, Ohio State’s defensive line will be more than fine until he returns.
3. Is the backup quarterback battle settled?
Once again, Ohio State was able to build a big lead, rest Barrett and get both of the backup quarterbacks some valuable reps. And just like the previous opportunity, Dwayne Haskins was the first one off the bench and the guy getting more chances to show what he can do leading the offense.
It’s possible that the Buckeyes don’t need to see much of Joe Burrow because he has previous experience. It’s also within reason that his right hand isn’t yet back to full strength and Ohio State doesn’t want to rush anything.
But it does seem telling that Haskins was the first one out of the bullpen again. And then there’s what the freshman is doing once he gets on the field, which is only strengthening his case to take over the No. 2 spot alone and become Barrett’s heir apparent. The gorgeous ball he delivered to McCall for a 35-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was another showcase of Haskins’ impressive arm, and it’s getting easier every week to envision him sliding into the starting lineup once Barrett is gone.
That’s obviously not happening any time soon, and certainly not against Maryland this week. But it’s safe to assume that when it’s time for a question about the backup, Haskins is the answer.
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